Matthews: Creative industries and culture hold the power to drive growth

Foto: Michael Grøn, Billedmageren

Aarhus 2017’s administrerende direktør, Rebecca Matthews, bød deltagerne til A More Creative Denmark-konferencen velkommen med en brandtale, som vi har fået lov til at gengive her.

We have very important issues to discuss. How can creativity solve some of the biggest challenges of our society? And what is the connection between culture, creativity, business and growth – the so called ‘creative economy’?

Central Denmark Region and Aarhus 2017 is heavily focused on promoting sustainable growth by putting creative industries and culture on the regional, national and international agenda.

The creative industries have shown significant growth rates over the past decade – even during the financial crisis. They account for 9% of the total turnover of Denmark and that trend is expected to continue in the coming years. But we can do even better.

If the creative industries are to provide the innovative thrust and power for production-Denmark, and contribute even more in finding solutions to our societal challenges, we have to work strategically and we have to ensure the right conditions and framework for the creative industries.

So it’s my hope that today you will seize this opportunity to have conversations on how we can make this happen together. To be concrete, bring ideas to the table and to commit.

Culture and Business

The headline of A More Creative Denmark was Creative industries as drivers for growth but what exactly do we mean by ‘growth’?

From a strictly economic perspective, growth refers to, bear with me here,  “an increase in the inflation-adjusted market value of the goods and services produced by an economy over time”.

Get two economists from different schools in a room, and no doubt they’ll find plenty to disagree with there. But as you know, growth is about more than “increases in inflation-adjusted market values”, important though that may be.

It’s also about a good quality of life… being able to learn at different times and in different settings… gaining pleasure and purpose from relationships… having meaningful work… and enjoying access to a range of activities that express what it is to be human. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “logic may get you from A to B, but imagination takes you everywhere”.

Imagination is the fuel that drives the arts, the creative industries and both and so much more are at the vanguard of what is commonly understood by the term ‘culture’. It’s taken as axiomatic that the arts, culture, creative industries stimulate us, educate us, challenge and amuse us.

Alongside these personal and social benefits, or perhaps because of them, culture is able to deliver things which few other sectors can. It can bring our country to life and encourage people to visit our shores… it develops a sense of community, and attracts visitors to disparate parts of our nation… it allows us to build international relationships, forging a foundation for the trade deals of tomorrow… and it cultivates the creativity which underpins our wider industrial efforts.

Of course, the potential for culture to play a central role in driving growth, broadly defined, goes far beyond its direct economic impact. But in fact, I would say that arts and culture sit at the centre of economic growth. They can lead the way to a bright future for business, in a country, a region, a city, or a borough.

Let me extend the idea to the full reach of culture’s impact, including our friends, the creative industries. In simple terms, we know great brands and big businesses sponsor and partner creative endeavour because they see a clear link between culture, relationships, attraction, and brand. But more in-depth research has shown that sustained cultural interaction builds trust… and trust underpins trade.

If people understand your culture – your arts, education, science, sport, cuisine, even politics – they are more likely to visit, study in, invest in, and do business with your country in the future.

Culture is now seen by many, including my former employer the British Council, as the standard bearer for efforts to engage in international relations, to develop soft power, and to compete, as a nation, in both trade and investment. And this thinking has escalated to the very top.

In June this year, the European Parliament adopted a strategy to place culture at the heart of EU foreign policy. The strategy was put forward at this year’s Culture Forum by EU High Representative and Vice-President, Federica Mogherini. Introducing the strategy, she said this:

“Culture is a powerful tool to build bridges between people, notably the young, and reinforce mutual understanding. It can also be an engine for economic and social development. As we face common challenges, culture can help all of us, in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, stand together to …build an alliance of civilisations… This is why cultural diplomacy must be at the core of our relationship with today’s world.”

The world of 2008, when Aarhus Kommune, together with Central Denmark Region and the other 18 municipalities, decided to bid for the title of 2017 European Capital of Culture was not exactly short of challenges either: Financial crisis… climate change… rising unemployment… urbanisation… migration… these were all high on the agenda locally, nationally, and internationally.

Following an extensive process of consultation, involving more than 10,000 people across sectors and geography, it was clear that any 2017 bid by the CDR to be ECoC should be a strategy – with culture at its heart – to address these challenges, and to show that art and culture can precipitate change, generate growth and opportunity and help us to completely rethink the way we handle challenges.

So it was indeed a visionary city and region that stepped up to bid for the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture, and invited all of Europe to join in.

The realisation of our strategy has been underway for more than eight years now, and is nearing its culmination with frightening speed – as the countdown clock outside our HQ at DOKK1 reminds me every day. Now at 116 days – yes we’re counting!

And while preparing for what will, we hope, be both a magical and memorable year, we are also looking forward and preparing for the next phase – the time after 2017.

We are, once again, consulting our regional and national stakeholders across sectors, to create a legacy strategy which will ensure that we hand over the relevant tasks to our partners in a timely way.

And that is crucial in ensuring that a year of being European Capital of Culture obtains the greatest impact possible, which in turn shows that culture really is a high-return investment, and a driver for development and growth.


The evidence from many other cities who have held this important title, shows that for every euro invested, there’s an average return of six. Witness Marseilles in 2013 and Liverpool in 2008.

Liverpool attracted almost 10 million extra visitors during the year, and its increased profile led to over £750 million of extra spending in the local area. That’s 6.6 billion Krone in today’s money.

Closer to home in Aarhus, we’re already seeing the effects of our increased profile due to being European Capital of Culture-in-waiting.

This summer we passed the milestone of having more than one million tourists staying overnight in the city. We had 12 cruise ships call at Aarhus harbour in 2015, 29 this year and we have 36 and counting already booked for 2017. Record numbers. Driven by culture.

We’re also enjoying unprecedented levels of international media coverage, having featured recently in Die Welt, The New York Times, The Telegraph, Vogue, The Guardian, and we were no 2 in Lonely Planet’s top Europe destinations for 2016. Aarhus is apparently the “Next grown up scruffy place to be”.

But we’re not complacent about the consequences of all this attention. We know that the future for cities as tourist destinations and as places to live, work and invest is change, change, and more change.

While there are many factors behind this, the diversity and reach of our innovation, of our creative offer as a city drive this development.

So if you’ll forgive me, I want to turn to the world of concepts for a moment, because there is some very interesting thinking being done around Europe about the connections between places, people, and practices – of all kinds, whether political or personal, cultural or economic.

As we’ve seen, the implications of being European Capital of Culture go way beyond museums and books and symphonies and conferences. It’s about the strategic management of an entire city and surrounding region, including transport, housing, energy, food, IT, media, employment, and the environment.

In short, it’s about making Aarhus a ‘smart city’ and the region a ‘smart territory’. A smart territory is defined as an attractive area for people to live and work, and for business to invest in. ‘Smartness’ is measured by a range of ‘quality of living’ indicators.

It’s about improving significant aspects of a region’s physical and human capital, in order to create economic growth, attract investment, and build civil society.

It’s part of an emerging policy field known as the strategic management of place. In recent years, particular types of people have been identified as catalysts for the development of smart territories.

Called ‘the creative classes’ by US urban policy specialist Richard Florida, they are associated with occupations such as the arts, design, media, and education, as the name ‘creative classes’ suggests. But they are also found in areas like engineering, computer programming, and R&D.

Members of the creative classes demonstrate particular competences, such as innovation, problem-solving, creative thinking, and a positive attitude to risk management.

So for Richard Florida, the description ‘creative’ now applies to a wide range of professionals – people who choose work that is characterised by flexibility and autonomy and which blends their professional and personal lives.

Increasingly, they also move across national borders without being tied to industrial-era modes of production and consumption.

According to Florida, the more of these ‘creative classes’ a city or region can attract, the smarter it will get, and the more growth and investment it will enjoy.

Of course, anything that sounds as simple as that, probably isn’t. But, from the perspective of the strategic management of place, there is strong evidence of the economic effects of the presence of creative and cultural practices and industries.

Take the UK as an example. A recent report there points out the significant economic contribution made by creative industries at national and local level.

The report shows that “creative industries are growing more rapidly than other sectors in most parts of the country”, and that particular ‘sub-sectors’ of the creative industries including design, software and digital services, and advertising, are leading the charge.

And it’s not only the well-known city locations – Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Manchester, etc. – but also smaller towns and even villages that are experiencing this.

The report reveals creative activity in almost every part of the country, including ‘hotspots’ in urban and suburban locations which are experiencing ‘explosive’ growth in entrepreneurial activity.

This is a function of the economic geography of talent, and it’s something that is familiar to us in Denmark through the international success of Copenhagen-based TV shows like The Killing and Borgen, and, more recently, the adventures of crime reporter Dicte Svendsen, set in Aarhus.

Based on the novels by Elsebeth Egholm, a native of Aarhus, Dicte affords the city itself a starring role in which it comes to life on the screen, perhaps even more so than on the page. It has sharply-drawn characters and gripping plots which showcase the mid-Jutland sense of humour and a feminist feistiness that gives our culture its edge.

Dicte has a rapidly-growing international following, and has joined the ranks of the ‘Scandi-noir’ phenomenon. And I am delighted to share that we at Aarhus 2017 are co-financing the third season of Dicte.

And we are doing so exactly because… the clustering of creative industries around specific locations, for a variety of reasons, builds the base of existing skills and talents, attracts new capabilities and puts cities on the map.

More Creative and Creativity World Forum

As I’ve already mentioned, we are seeing positive changes in the region when it comes to tourism. Escalating media interest and with that increased visibility and profile.

We’re also seeing a significant strengthening of local creative industries. One of our programmes in Aarhus 2017 designed specifically with Central Denmark Region, that powerhouse and incubus of creative power, is More Creative. The spine in the Central Region Denmark’s focus on the creative industries.

More Creative is an initiative designed to stimulate the environment for digital communicators, urban innovators, fashion designers and product creators so that we can live smarter and better in the future.

Under the headline “More Creative Events”, Aarhus 2017 will showcase architecture, design, fashion, the visual and digital industries and food because Central Region Denmark is also European Region of Gastronomy in 2017.

And it all culminates in Aarhus in November 2017 in the conference Creativity World Forum, its first time in Denmark…

When more than 2,000 guests from all over the world gather to discuss, debate and unpack the theme “Creative Resilience: How to use creativity to develop cities on the rise”

We’re asking people to Rethink and co-create innovative solutions to societal challenges on a people, business and city level.


Now you may be wondering what we’re doing to live up to our promises and to provide evidence for all the benefits and spin-off effects I’ve touched upon today. And to finish, I’d like to mention how we monitor and keep track of our ambitions for cultural results.

One of the main challenges is to move beyond ‘classical’ indicators and tools when arguing the value of culture. Of course, we will look at job creation, overnight stays, increase in spend, and so on.

But as I’ve suggested, the value of cultural investment extends beyond economic measurement. This is exactly why rethinkIMPACTS 2017 – our strategic partnership with Aarhus University – looks at five types of impact: cultural, economic, image and identity, political and organisational as well as social.

The purpose of the research and evaluation programme is to provide an independent evaluation of Aarhus 2017.

But it is also a clear ambition that we’ll develop new methods – new types of indicators by which the value of culture as a driver for development can be monitored and measured. Of course, the kinds of results that we’re all seeking do not happen overnight. They take time.

Look at Nantes Saint-Nazaire, to the southwest of Paris, and you see a place which has embarked on a transformation from decaying industrial port to “avant-garde eco-metropolis”. And they’ve done so without the stimulus of a European Capital of Culture!

The Nantes transformation strategy encompasses a range of sectors, advanced manufacturing, marine renewables, and health to eco-construction.

But it’s the striking success of their Creative Industries Cluster, located in a disused shipyard district, that is attracting most of the attention. Since 2009 the Cluster has become the location for more than 36,000 jobs, with nearly 8,500 businesses.

In 2017 a new co-location of higher education institutions will see the Cluster become home to some 4,000 students, and 100 research professors.

These developments are instrumental in taking Nantes from a situation of despair over industry closing down, to optimism and thriving development.

The thing is – Nantes has taken a stand. They believe in the power of culture, and are willing to prioritize it – and defend that priority – for the long term.

Of course, there is much hard work to be done, and there will be fights along the way. But it shows that the power of the creative industries (in this case) and culture to drive growth is real, and, through high-profile set-pieces like European Capital of Culture, more and more places are learning how to release that power.

And today I hope we move one step closer to unfolding the potential of the creative industries’ role in that.

Læs mere om A More Creative Denmark-konferencen, som blev afholdt den 27. september 2016, her.